Young, gifted and multi-ethnic–melting pot offers vital ingredients to Irish teams
“I think the coaching at a lot of club has got better, the facilities are generally a lot better and the network of scouting is a hell of a lot better,” says Harrison. “The widening base can only be good for the game.”
Still, as good an example as any of what can be achieved is provided by Blanchardstown’s Corduff FC, an avowedly local club for locals which, just to be clear, they mean in the very best way possible. “The club is a melting pot of different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities,” the club’s website proudly informs visitors. “Blanchardstown is a microcosm of Irish life today and Corduff FC is a direct reflection of that. The club is 50 per cent native Irish and 50 per cent various nationalities including Irish-born kids of foreign parents.”
Johnny Bootman, its secretary and the manager of the team for which Poame and Diallo play, rattles off a few of the other nationalities – Chinese, Lithuanian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani – represented in the club’s 17 underage sides.
“You can see we’re going to have a more multicultural society represented by a more multicultural team in the not too distant future,” he says, “and that’s going to be good for the country and the game.”
He works in Corduff Sports Centre, the construction of which enabled the club to expand and attract more kids from the locality. That Poame and Diallo have become the first players from the club to be capped is just the most public aspect of what’s in it for the club, he suggests.
Tomlinson, meanwhile, points out “football provides a pathway whereby people can socialise and integrate, and not just for the kids but for the adults as well.”
Incidents of racism are not unknown but almost everyone insists they are rare, in part, one manager theorises, because almost every team has kids from different ethnic backgrounds and so abusing those from the other side would be unthinkable.
Bootman remembers one “where one of our lads ran amok, kicked out and got sent off. When I asked him what had had happened he said he was getting racist stuff, black bastard or stuff like that; every time he went in for a tackle or whatever. He said he told the referee but that he had told him he’d just have to play on. That’s the only thing that stands out for me in five years really.”
Tomlinson acknowledges the problem exists. “We have rules and we have to ensure that out leagues understand what those rules are. Some people will face it and some won’t. What we have to try to do is to ensure referees are equipped to deal with it because we have a policy of zero tolerance.”